Written by Joe Rizza Wednesday, 03 June 2009 11:47
A bill being considered in Albany would make it easier for local governments, including villages, towns and special districts but not including school districts, to be dissolved. The mechanism would make it possible for villages like the Village of Mineola, which is 103 years old, to be dissolved.
The bill, entitled the “New N.Y. Government Reorganization and Citizen Empowerment Act,” was unveiled by New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.
The bill is designed to give residents the power to dissolve local governments such as special districts, towns and villages. Proponents view the act as a way to streamline governments in favor of a more cost-effective way of delivering services to residents. “We have the historic opportunity to pass legislation that will empower citizens, streamline New York’s antiquated local government system and reduce the tremendous tax burden that New Yorkers deal with every day,” said Cuomo in a press release about the legislation.
The legislation is moving through the New York State Assembly rather quickly and can be voted on as early as this week. According to the bill (Assembly Bill A08501), the citizen-initiated process of dissolving a government is triggered by the filing of a petition of at least 10 percent of registered voters (or 5,000 registered voters, whichever is less) and then a referendum in which a majority of registered voters votes in favor of dissolving the government.
In the case of the Village of Mineola with approximately 11,000 registered voters, 1,100 signatures on a petition would trigger a referendum during which a simple majority would dissolve the village.
The bill also authorizes counties to abolish, merge and consolidate multiple units of government by a county-wide referendum.
Assemblyman Tom McKevitt, who is against the bill, said on Friday the New York State Assembly Committee on Local Governments passed the bill on May 26; the Ways and Means Committee passed it on May 27 and, as of Friday, it was sitting in the Rules Committee. It could be voted on by the Assembly this week.
“If the whole purpose of this thing is to go and save on property taxes, I don’t think the bill accomplishes that goal,” said Assemblyman McKevitt. “You’re asking people to make a decision with almost no information. What’s really frightening is how quickly this bill is being pushed through the process.”
While the bill may be aimed at some special districts that have been viewed by critics to be inefficient and costly to taxpayers, the bill’s language also includes the ability to dissolve villages, which many believe are the most efficient forms of government.
Village officials who gathered at Mineola Village Hall, including Nassau County Village Officials Association executive director Warren Tackenberg, the former mayor of New Hyde Park, president Nancy Zolezzi, and Mineola Mayor Jack M. Martins as well as the entire Mineola Village Board voice their concerns about the bill, which they believe is ill-conceived.
Some of the village officials believe that some of the state’s elected officials should be looking at themselves in the mirror when it comes to providing more cost-effective government. Democrats in the state legislature have been under fire recently for passing a state budget that increases taxes and fees as well as a recent MTA bailout plan that imposes a payroll tax on municipalities and businesses. While Democrats and Republicans were split on those votes, there are some Republicans and Democrats supporting government consolidation.
Village of North Hills Mayor Marvin Natiss said he wrote letters to state elected officials expressing concern about the governmental consolidation bill. “If you want to find waste, your waste is in the state agencies, not in the villages,” he said.
“They [those who support the government consolidation bill] can’t fix Albany, so they’re trying to break the only form of government that actually works — local village government,” said Mayor Martins in a statement (the statement in its entirety can be found in the Editorial section of this newspaper).
Another troubling aspect of the bill is that it provides no provision for providing service if a government is dissolved. The Village of Mineola provides water, fire service, sanitation, a library and park to its residents. If the village were to be dissolved, what entity would pick up those services? The Town of North Hempstead? Nassau County? Perhaps other special districts that haven’t been dissolved would pick up the services.
The governmental consolidation bill merely states that “if a majority of the electorate in each entity votes in favor of consolidation or dissolution, then the entities’ governing body or bodies must meet and develop a proposed written plan to implement the voters’ decision, followed by the plan’s publication and public hearings.”